By Nicol Myburgh, HCM Business Unit at CRS Technologies
The line between employee rights and workplace safety is becoming increasingly blurred in a world where vax meets anti-vax.
The COVID-19 vaccine debate has never been hotter. ‘Take it,’ say the medical professionals and the vaccine believers. ‘No,’ say the vaccine debaters and naysayers, influenced by social media and complex healthcare concerns. It’s a debate that has broken up families and friendships, and is now posing a very real threat to the stability of the workplace. It’s also one that has slipped into a grey area where organisation and individual stand at an impasse as work from home becomes work from office and the vaccinated and the unvaccinated face a stand-off.
This is a hot topic, especially now as employers start to enforce their own rules around vaccinated staff and safety. Technically, the constitution says that companies are not allowed to force employees to have the vaccination, and employees have the right to object to taking it. However, on the flip side, the Occupational Health and Safety Act makes the employer responsible for doing everything reasonable to keep staff safe in a safe workplace.
This is a fine line, and one that’s currently almost impossible to navigate. On one hand, the employee refused entry and work because they don’t have a vaccine is protected by law to choose what they will or will not do with their bodies. On the other, unvaccinated employees can pose a risk to the workplace and themselves. In some cases, the balancing act is relatively easy to define – if employees work in a space where others are at risk, such as an old age home, then their being vaccinated would be essential. In the average business, however, this is a fuzzy and blurred line.
‘The other consideration that the business has to make is around the reasons why a person has objected to the vaccine. Is it a medical condition prohibiting them from taking it? Or is it because they think it contains a microchip? This then asks if they can do their job remotely for the time being, or if they are unable to work without being on site. They could wear a M95 mask, but that’s not ideal for everyone. An investigation will ultimately determine the risks.
There is a likelihood that refusal to vaccinate may create an impossible situation for employee and employer. How this is set to be resolved depends on the role, the reasons, the workplace and the situation. There are options that can be taken, such as dismissal for operational requirements that are aligned with the law and protect both employee and company.
This is, however, all theory right now because the laws haven’t been tested, the situation has not yet gone to court. The true impact of this debate on the workplace has yet to be determined, but we definitely live in interesting times.
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